Early Years Picture Book Shelf

How About a Night Out?
Sam Williams and Matt Hunt
Boxer Books

We join a kitty cat embarking on a nocturnal excursion through the city where  adventures aplenty await. There are friends to meet for a ‘catercall’ upon the wall,

a roundabout to ride upon, birds to scare and much more. A ‘night to sing about’ claims our adventurer but all too soon the sun comes up and it’s time to head for home and some city kitty slumbers.

Delivered in jaunty rhyming couplets and Matt Hunt’s alluring art showing the cat’s journey against the inky dark sky, this will surely please early years listeners.

What Colour Is Night?
Grant Snider
Chronicle Books

If you’re thinking night is black, then have another think. You certainly will having read Grant Snider’s poetic nocturnal exploration. Herein he shows us the multitude of colours that a closer look will reveal. There’s blue for a start, ‘a big yellow moon beginning to rise’, the fireflies glowing gold in the park.

But that’s just the start: there are ‘Fat brown moths dancing in yellow streetlights’, a whole city lit with red neon signs, the green-eyed glow of prowling raccoons, silver stars spilling across the sky above the barely visible countryside.

The silent stillness of his scenes though, is not confined to the outdoors. Inside we see the grey face of a clock, the shapes afloat in the bowl holding a midnight snack are yellow blue and pink; while through the window we start to see the moon’s rings and outdoors once more are ‘all the night’s colours in one moonbow’.

I’m pretty sure that young readers and listeners will envy the sleeping child picked up and taken on a dream flight through pink and purple clouds over the city aglow with colours. Snider offers an ideal excuse for little ones to request a delay to their own slumbers in order to view those ‘colours unseen’.

What Can You See?
Jason Korsner and Hannah Rounding
I Like to Put Food in My Welly
Jason Korsner and Max Low
Graffeg

What Can You See? invites little ones to develop their observation skills as they focus on in turn a table laid for tea, a lounge, the garden, the sky, the jungle, a flower and a host of other focal points to locate the objects named in the relevant verse in Hannah Rounding’s delectable illustrations.
In I Like to Put Food in My Welly, playful topsy-turvies result from putting butter on the bread, pulling a rabbit from a hat, climbing an apple tree and other starting points, each scenario being presented in Max Low’s zany sequences (Did I see two of Max’s popular characters making a guest appearance?)

Engaging rhymes and art: just right for putting across the ‘language is fun’ message to pre-schoolers.

Koshka’s Tales: Stories from Russia

Koshka’s Tales: Stories from Russia
James Mayhew
Graffeg

Immediately engaging from the outset is James Mayhew’s deft weaving together of a handful of Russian folktales using Koshka the story-spinning feline of the title as narrator.

We meet this cat at the end of the first tale in which Tsar Saltan marries one of three sisters, Militrissa, who promises to bear him seven sons, and is tricked several times by her jealous siblings.

As a result he has her tossed into the sea in a casket but Militrissa, along with one baby son whom she has hidden up her sleeve, do not perish and eventually end up on the far distant island of Buyan. And it’s there they meet the wise Koshka and before long she begins to tell the new arrivals The Tale of the Snowmaiden.

Thereafter comes another story telling of an encounter with a merchant who acts as a link between Tsar Saltan and his wife on the island.

The merchant returns taking back on subsequent trips each of Koshka’s tales, the others being The Tale of Sadko the Minstrel,

the Tale of Ivan, the Grey Wolf and the Firebird,

The Tale of Vassilisa the Fair and Baba-Yaga, to the Tsar until eventually he is convinced to set sail himself and find his wife.

James’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. I love the ornamental folklore inspired motifs that border the text and the beautiful richly coloured side panels and full-page illustrations that make every page turn a delight.

A terrific way to introduce youngsters to the riches of Russian folklore; this book would make a great present and is perfect for sharing on chilly wintry days and nights.

Through the Eyes of Us / In Every House, on Every Street

Through the Eyes of Us
Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding
Graffeg

This is the second book written by the father of a child on the autism spectrum.

Herein as well as Kya from Through the Eyes of Me, we meet her best friend Martha.

Kya, now at school, talks about her experiences there, sometimes contrasting her thoughts, behaviour and preferences with Martha’s.

I know from experience of children I’ve taught that school can be a very confusing place for neurodiverse children, but both girls have their own ways of navigating through lessons, playtimes and lunchtimes, all of which are illustrated in colourful, detailed, sometimes funny scenes.

Kya also describes how she and Martha enjoy different tactile experiences,

and activities in their free time; and their routines are also different.

Martha knows when she feels tired, unlike our narrator whose energy seems boundless; although once asleep after a soothing bath and massage, she sleeps soundly.

Enlivened by Hannah Rounding’s expressive illustrations, this is a smashing celebration of every child’s uniqueness as well as providing an insightful picture of the world of an autistic child.

The book concludes with a list of relevant websites.

Put Through the Eyes of Us in your class collection and whether or not you have children on the autism spectrum therein, read it together, talk about it and lend it to individuals for home sharing too.

In Every House, on Every Street
Jess Hitchman and Lili La Baleine
Little Tiger

The girl narrator of this book invites readers into her house to see what goes on in its various rooms.

What we discover is a happy family engaging in seemingly ordinary everyday activities, but nothing they do is dull or mundane.

The cake baking in the kitchen becomes an opportunity for the family to dance and sing together.

The dining room might be the place for eating a meal, but that meal can turn into a fun piratical party,

while the living room is a great spot for rest and relaxation but also for dancing and singing, mulling things over and talking about feelings.

Yes the bathroom is for getting clean but there are opportunities for some artistic endeavours too.

And the bedroom? Yes sleep happens therein, but so too does play.

Full of warmth, this is a lovely demonstration of what makes a house a home delivered through Jess Hitchman’s upbeat rhyming narrative and Lili La Baleine’s views of the everyday incidents of family life that make it special but different for everyone in the street, as the final fold out spread reveals.

Molly and the Whale

Molly and the Whale
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson
Graffeg

Following a stormy night, Molly and Dylan go down to the seashore in search of interesting items that might have been washed up. What they find however is not what they’d been anticipating.

“Daddy! Daddy! … There’s an enormous whale on the beach!” comes Molly’s cry.

Loading up the barrow with buckets and spades, the father and children head for the beach again where it’s now low tide.

There, with the help of their friends, Molly and Dylan keep the whale’s skin cool and her dad digs a trench around the huge creature.

Then they wait the long wait for the tide to come in, which they hope, will be sufficiently high to enable the whale to free itself and swim away. Molly sings to the massive creature in an effort to calm her own nerves although her heartfelt song cannot cool the increasingly unhappy whale.

Disappointment comes when the high tide proves insufficiently deep to enable the creature to swim off.

Molly is distraught: her father sends her home promising to wait on the beach for the full moon tide. Perhaps that will be higher … and happily, so it proves.

This is the second story to feature island-dwelling Molly, her family and friends. I quickly found myself drawn to the young girl, her empathy with the whale and her determination to save it.

I’m sure young listeners will be too as they hear Malachy’s tale and see Andrew Whitson’s quirky, richly coloured, patterned illustrations of teamwork set against beautiful sea and landscapes .

Mouse & Mole

Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

First published over 25 years ago, it’s wonderful to see what was a favourite book among new solo readers in primary classes I was teaching at the time, brought back in print by Graffeg.

Mouse and Mole are great friends (somewhat similar to Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad to whom there’s a dedication of sorts before the five tales herein).

All five of the stories are adorable but I think my favourite remains Talk to Me. Here the two chat together about the possibilities of ‘tomorrow’ be it fine – then a picnic with cheese and cucumber sandwiches is the order of the day. If however the day isn’t fine, then an apple wood fire, cosy armchairs, roast chestnuts, toasted muffins and hot chocolate (mmm!) are on the agenda. Should it be ‘an in-between sort of day’, Mouse suggests ‘we will do something in-between’ … We will tidy up.’ I hope for their sake it isn’t the third option. I doubt we have in-between days in our house!

Salad is the title of story number two and the day is, so Mouse informs his still in bed pal, ‘wild and wintry’. Who can blame Mole for wanting to stay snuggled up in a cosy, warm bed, even with the offer from Mouse of huddling by the fire to consume toasted muffins and roast chestnuts.

Those particular items appear to be favourites with the two characters, one of which consumes large quantities of both.

I won’t divulge what happens in the other three stories – Tidying Up

Stuff

and The Picnic – yes they do finally go –

rather I’ll urge you to get yourself a copy of this new edition that still has as much charm – both Joyce’s deliciously comic tellings and James wonderful illustrations – as I remember from back in the day. Read alone or read aloud, it’s great either way.

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map / Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map
Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Max Low
Graffeg

These are the latest titles featuring best friends Deri the Dog and Ceri the cat that introduce young children to specific concepts/skills through fun stories. (Here it’s orientation and design.)

The Treasure Map in the former is an old one that once belonged to Ceri’s nan, an erstwhile pirate, so the stripy feline claims. Ceri’s story of said nan sailing the high seas inspires Deri and the two set off excitedly, map in paws, to find treasure.

En route they are joined by the equally enthusiastic Gardener Glesni, Owain the Optician and Farmer Ffion who are more than willing to leave their respective allotment, spectacle selling, and vegetables to join the search.

Eventually the map leads them within smelling distance of the sea.

But is that treasure buried on the sandy beach as they’d been led to believe by the X, and if so just what will they discover when they dig?

The Bird House tells how the friends come upon a curious little bird while out walking together in town. Clearly it cannot remain on Deri’s head so the two decide to build it a house.

They think carefully about the design – a hallway with telephone for making ‘bird calls’ and ‘a place for all its shoes,” they decide; a kitchen with a plethora of bird seed, flowers, a sink; a balloon-filled dining room , amazing tree-patterned wallpaper, a record player (for listening to bird songs) a bathroom complete with bird bath entered by waterslide

and (obviously) a wave machine. The friends get even more carried away with their elaborate plans; but, tools and materials assembled, can they actually put them into action: I wonder?

This one made me laugh out loud a couple of times, it’s so sweetly silly and I’m happy to report that despite Ceri’s feline-ness, the bird has found two new friends.

If you’re yet to meet Ceri and Deri, I suggest you start here. The friends are a delight and Max Low’s stories are full of charm and engagingly illustrated.

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque
Mark Llewelyn Evans, illustrated by Karl Davies
Graffeg

The author of this book, professional opera singer Mark Llewelyn Evans, is the founder and creative director of ABC of Opera Productions, a company that tours the UK introducing children to the stories and glories of the opera through music and storytelling.
His enthusiasm shines through this, his debut children’s book, the first in The Academy of Barmy Composers series. Herein readers follow the fabulous story of best friends Megan and Jack who climb over the gate of Pontirgorffenol village music hall, (long since fallen into disuse and said by some to contain treasure), and discover Trunk. They’re amazed to learn that this Trunk into which they’d both fallen is able to talk – in 43 languages what’s more.

Thus begins an awesome adventure with Trunk, taking them back to 1597 to the country of its origin – ‘shaped like a boot’ – and there to discover ”The ABC of Opera” and the Academy of Barmy Composers.

After something of a crash landing in Florence, Megan and Jack find themselves face-to-face with golden-haired Professor Peri,(aka Golden Locks) inventor of Opera who leads them into the academy hall; there to meet the ‘Baa-rockers’ – Florence’s cool “arty fartys” as the composers introduce themselves.

There is so much to discover but the prof. is a passionate teacher

and the children avid listeners who cannot help but be swept up in the crazy but enormously exciting learning experience,

which ends all too soon.

And so it will be I have no doubt, with child readers who are lucky enough to get their hands on this exuberantly presented, thoroughly engaging book. I love the characters, Karl Davies’ zany illustrations are a joy, and there are concluding spreads giving information on instruments of the time, voice types and the composers. If the whole experience doesn’t leave youngsters eager to experience baroque music, especially opera, then nothing will.
Bring on the next musical adventure.